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This honours class makes you date your problem

Theoretical research does not always give us the right solution to a problem in society. This message, loud and clear, is delivered during the final presentations of the Master Honours Class 'Social Innovation in Action'.

During this Honours Class, small teams of ambitious master students work together to design a solution to a specific issue in society. They are either presented with the issue by their teacher Betty Huerta or organisations who are trying to develop solutions to these problems. The innovative organisations this year include Education Warehouse, Open Fields Foundation and Dexterity Club. The topics vary from the recognition of informally learned skills, to the future of automation in the education system and to digital literacy among children. 


After defining the problem, students make assumptions about it, and take many small steps to verify these assumptions. This is why ‘design thinking’, as it is called, is so different from most academic research: the researcher should be well acquainted with the issue at hand before designing a solution.

“The solution should not just be your own great idea that you want to push into the world"

Betty Huerta often compares it to marriage: “Theoretical research is like marrying someone you have never met before. You are designing a solution to a problem that you do not understand at all. It just doesn’t fit. In this course, we teach students to date their problems before marrying them, before designing the solution, to make sure it is a perfect match in the end.”

Testing, testing and more testing

After conducting a great amount of surveys, the students organise interviews with their beneficiaries to listen to their specific needs. Students also organise small social experiments to either verify or falsify their assumptions and stayed in close contact with their beneficiaries. Saskia Schrijnen, innovation coach and entrepreneur explains that this makes tailoring solutions easier: “The solution should not just be your own great idea that you want to push into the world, but something that will really make a difference and help the specific problem of the beneficiaries.”

In many cases, students would find that their assumptions are not entirely true or even completely wrong, which helps them to adjust their path to their solutions. One student had the assumption that parents and teachers felt they know enough about digital literacy to teach their children/pupils about it. After the surveys and interviews, it turned out this is far from the truth.

"Researches often externalize themselves from the topic of their research"

Be the change you want to see

During the final presentations, students put forward the problems they have identified. One group focuses on the social division between Dutch and international students in Leiden. They present the assumptions about the problem. One of these is that despite this social division, Dutch and international students do, in fact, want to socialize with each other. To stimulate and facilitate social interactions between Dutch and international students, the group organises online game nights, social gatherings and Covid-proof walks in the park with other students. 

Sjoerd Louwaars, Innovation Director at PLNT, is impressed by the students’ findings. PLNT is a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship and it provides students a place to grow. It is therefore the perfect place for this Honours Class. Sjoerd encourages students to involve themselves even more in the research process and the experiments: “Researches often externalize themselves from the topic of their research, but doing the change you want to create may be just as much effective as studying it.”

Text: Tamara Végh
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What is PLNT Leiden?

This Master Honours Class of Leiden University was offered in cooperation with PLNT, the Leiden Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Sjoerd Louwaars, director of innovation at PLNT: "We stimulate the region by connecting people, ideas and challenges - because where worlds meet, growth will follow."

More information on the philosophy and projects of PLNT can be found on plnt.nl.

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